At his recent presentation to change managers attending an AUA event in London, SUMS’ Managing Consultant Simon Donoghue outlined the current state of the sector and the required approach when it comes to managing change.

Universities are in the unenviable position of embarking on a new era of challenges.  The sector is facing unprecedented change, combined with a high degree of uncertainty, increased competition for students and tougher strategic choices.  With the change from HEFCE to the OfS, there is now also the very real possibility of failure for universities – so the case for strong change management functions within universities is clear.  The ability of a university to successfully lead and deliver strategic change is a key competency that takes time, investment and effort to achieve. Reassuringly, most universities have been investing in the development of this competency.  And SUMS has seen an emergence and expansion of specialist professional teams in this area.

Through work with a number of universities representing a wide range of sizes, maturity levels and speciality focuses, key trends within the sector are visible:

  • Most universities now have project/change teams (~70%)
  • Most are central and fairly small ( Average ~ 7 people) – even in larger universities
  • The role and remit vary, with a common core around project management and project oversight.

These teams now also have a wide portfolio that can encompass initiatives to improve student recruitment, process & service improvement, student experience & student life-cycle, systems development & implementation, digital transformation and restructures, among many others.

And while the work universities are undertaking is positive, leaders in change management will need to take the following into account as part of their approach:

  • The journey from starting point to maturity in change management is typically three to five years
  • The pace of this journey is often linked to proving and demonstrating a concept, and is affected by leadership style, changes and understanding of the importance of change management
  • It is easier to build implementation capacity than it is to build strategic leadership
  • The factors that ensure success in the early stages are not the same as those in the latter stages.

This all makes for a considerable challenge and one that we are seeing more members trying to tackle.   SUMS can provide expert support in change management strategy, competency and capability development.  To learn more about how we can help you, contact us at


Photo credit: Hannah White, Project Manager, University of Manchester

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